Part 5: Taking Power
Story Written by James Rada, Jr.
“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.
The 12 women stood in the wooded clearing between Graceham and Thurmont. They all wore white cloaks with hoods that covered their heads. They talked quietly in small groups, paced, and looked at their wristwatches.
Finally, Anna Eichholtz stepped up to the small campfire burning in the center of the clearing. She slid the hood off her head.
“As I told you, Barbara isn’t coming, I will lead the coven tonight,” Anna said.
The other women stopped what they were doing and moved to stand in a circle around the fire.
“What gives you the right to lead?” Kate Montgomery asked.
Anna lifted her chin and stared at each of the other witches over the fire. “I removed Barbara, and she will not return. Now, as the most powerful among you, I claim the right to lead.”
The other women murmured. Some of them turned to walk away.
“How did you do it?” Kate asked. “You weren’t more powerful than Barbara. That is why she led this coven.”
Anna raised her hand. A small starling flew from the trees and landed in the middle of the fire. The flames ignited the bird’s feathers. It didn’t move or screech in pain. The witches gasped. The bird toppled over. It was a blackened husk.
“I brought the birds to Graceham, and they killed Barbara,” Anna said. “They will remain here to take care of anyone else who opposes me.”
The birds. Anna didn’t need to say more. Everyone knew of millions of grackles, crows, starlings, and cowbirds that had been living in Graceham for months. They were a nuisance that no one – not even this coven – had been able to drive away. Now Anna had proclaimed that she controlled them, and she did, although it wasn’t her alone.
Her niece, Sarah, might have the power, but Anna knew how to control that power and use it.
* * *
Sarah Adelsberger answered the knock at her front door. She opened it, and saw Mrs. Zentz standing there. Sarah stifled a scream. Her science teacher gave her a half grin.
“Well, that answers the question I had about whether you were involved in what happened to me,” Barbara Zentz said.
Sarah stepped back and hung her head. She expected to feel angry like she had when she had seen Mrs. Zentz for the past few months. Instead, she felt ashamed like she had after she had killed Christine Weber.
But Mrs. Zentz was alive. How could that be? Sarah had seen her disappear beneath thousands of birds Sarah sent to attack her science teacher.
“How?” Sarah asked.
“There’s so much you don’t know Sarah, and you need to know it,” Barbara Zentz said.
“I know everything I need to know! You want to kill me!” Sarah tried to stir up her old anger, but it just wasn’t there.
Sarah closed her eyes and tried to focus on needing protection. She called to the birds. They would come to protect her. They always came to her aid.
When she opened her eyes, Sarah saw only three birds had come, and they weren’t attacking Mrs. Zentz. They sat on the ground staring at Sarah. Where were the rest? Millions of birds were all over Graceham right now. You could hardly take a step without stirring up a flock and only three had answered Sarah’s call?
Sarah shook her head and said, “How did you stop them? How are you still alive? What are you?”
“May I come in? We need to talk.”
Sarah looked around for more birds. Seeing none, she stared at her teacher. Mrs. Zentz took her silence as assent and walked into the house.
“Are your parents home?” Mrs. Zentz asked.
“Not yet,” Sarah managed to say.
Mrs. Zentz nodded. “Good. This should be a private conversation. Do they know about what you can do?”
Mrs. Zentz raised an eyebrow like she did in class when she suspected a student was lying to her. “Even your mother?”
“No. Only my aunt knows.”
Barbara walked into the living room and sat down on an armchair. Sarah stared at her. It had been three days since she had sent the birds to attack Mrs. Zentz. Sarah thought the teacher was dead, but she looked fine. She wasn’t even scratched, although thousands of birds had tried to claw and peck her to death.
“Are you a witch?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, as are you apparently.”
“That’s what my aunt told me.”
“Your aunt? Anna Eichholtz? She told you you are a witch?”
When Sarah nodded, Barbara closed her eyes and held a hand out, palm up, toward Sarah.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.
Mrs. Zentz said nothing. Then she took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
“I can sense the power in you, but it’s all raw power.”
Raw power? Her aunt had never called it that. It didn’t sound good.
“You have enough power to control the flock that has been causing problems around here, but without the training, you couldn’t keep them here for all this time. You don’t have the focus to make the birds obey your will.”
“My aunt trained me,” Sarah blurted.
Mrs. Zentz pursed her lips. “Really? You tried to get the birds to attack me again at the front door, didn’t you?”
“No!” Mrs. Zentz arched an eyebrow. “Well, I tried, but it didn’t work,” Sarah corrected herself.
Barbara nodded her head slowly. “You’re being used by another person who has control, but not your power.”
Sarah shook her head. “No, it can’t be. Nobody else knows what I can do. No one was even there for what I did to you and Christine.”
“Christine? Christine Weber?” Sarah nodded. “What happened to her?” Barbara asked.
“It was like what happened to you. The birds surrounded her and she disappeared. All that was left was some blood and a piece of her book bag.”
Mrs. Zentz sighed. “Oh, Sarah, you’re being used, and you don’t even realize it. Your aunt is controlling your power. Your anger gave her a way in.”
“No, my aunt has been trying to help me. I told you she’s been training me.”
“Sarah, you think you have control of your power, but you haven’t shown the control needed to do what you think you have done. Your power is like the water in a fire hydrant and you’re the hydrant. The water will pour out of you, but it takes control – the fire hose connected to the hydrant – to direct and use all of that water. Your aunt is the fire hose.”
Sarah felt a knot in her stomach, she didn’t even realize was there, uncurl itself. “Then I didn’t kill Christine?”
Barbara shook her head. “No more than the hydrant puts out the fire. Your aunt must have used an anger you felt toward Christine to find a way into your emotions and power. That gave her control over your power. Witches sometimes control another’s power to help train them, but the trainee always knows what is happening so she feels how to control her power on her own.”
“But she’s my aunt.”
Her aunt couldn’t have used her. Aunt Anna was like an older sister. She had watched Sarah every afternoon after school since Sarah was in Thurmont Elementary School. They were so close. Sarah told her aunt her secrets, her hopes, her worries. She had told her about Christine bullying her.
“She’s also a witch with big ambitions but only moderate power,” Barbara said.
“But she hasn’t tried to control me. She has been helping me,” Sarah insisted.
Mrs. Zentz reached out and patted her arm. “I’m sorry, Sarah. Calling the birds showed a great deal of control and experience, and you don’t show that level of control. You called three birds to you, and they only sat at my feet.”
Sarah stared at her in silence and then broke into tears. “Why? Why would she do this to me? I’ve had nightmares ever since Christine died.”
Mrs. Zentz leaned over and hugged the young teen.
“It’s your power. The young had great power, but I have never seen as much raw power as you have in you. Your aunt can use that power to control our coven, and with that, she could do just about whatever she might want around here. She has tried to take control before.”
Sarah lifted her head. “What happened then?”
Barbara frowned. “Anna has only moderate power herself. I defeated her and took control of the coven when our last leader died.”
“Are you going to fight her again? Are you going to kill her?” Sarah might not like what her aunt had done to her, but she didn’t want her to die.
“I can’t defeat her when she is using your power to supplement her own. Even with the aid of the rest of the coven, I doubt it would be enough power. Even if I could, though, I wouldn’t kill Anna. It’s not my way, nor is the way of most witches. We practice a beneficial magic to heal and help others. I gain my power from the goodwill it creates. I work with nature. People want to see my spells succeed, which gives the spells more power than I have.”
“That doesn’t sound like the power my aunt talked about.”
“It isn’t. She fights against nature because she wants to control. If you swim with a river’s current, you will swim faster because the current helps you. That is what I do. Your aunt swims against the current, working harder and believing she will make the current go in the direction she wants.”
Sarah had tried swimming against the current on vacation at Ocean City. It could be hard work. She said as much to Mrs. Zentz.
The teacher nodded and stood up. “When you use the power the way your aunt does, you have control. You don’t have to share with anyone. However, if you share your power, whomever has control has her power multiplied. By leading the coven, I have control of the power of all the witches in the coven. Your aunt will seek to control the coven, because with their power and yours, she will be a match for any witch I know. She needs to be stopped.”